Category Archives: Nesting & Courtship

Daily Visits to the Nest

Morela bows at the nest, hoping that Terzo will join her, 12 Jan 2020, 10:55a

Morela has made brief visits to the Cathedral of Learning peregrine nest every day this week. Snapshots from the National Aviary’s falconcam show her bowing and calling to her mate Terzo. He hasn’t joined her yet but don’t worry, he’s around. I saw him kiting in the wind yesterday.

On Sunday 12 January 2020 Morela spent five minutes bowing and calling.

Morela at the nest, 12 Jan 2020, 1056a
Morela calls to Terzo, 12 Jan 2020, 1058a

When Terzo didn’t join her she stepped forward to look around, “Where is he?”

Morela looking around for Terzo, 12 Jan 2020, 11:00a

On Monday 13 January she had just finished eating when she stopped by for a visit. Notice the bulge in her crop as she bows and calls.

And yesterday, 14 January, she stopped by for only a minute.

The snapshots are tantalizing … and silent. I can hardly wait until the National Aviary starts streaming the falconcam in the next few weeks. Stay tuned for that happy day!

(snapshots from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

p.s. Here’s how I capture these photos. Warning it’s technical!

Instant photos are at this link on my blog’s Resources panel: FALCONCAM – CL Snapshots.

The top photo is a once-a-minute snapshot from the (soon to be) streaming camera. It shows what’s happening there right now. You have to refresh your browser to see if it changes.

When there’s a peregrine on camera I save the photo to my hard drive or cellphone. Then I refresh the browser.

In January the nest is usually empty but I know when a peregrine is there because I follow @pittpefaALERT on Twitter. Every tweet from @pittpefaALERT is a 15-second “change” image showing what’s different at the nest. Changed pixels are shown in red. Here’s what they look like and what they mean.

Tweets that don’t matter: At dawn and dusk and on partly cloudy days the change is just sun and shadow. Here are two sun and shadow changes — red images with straight edges.

Two tweets from @pittpefaALERT showing changes in light at the Pitt nest

When a peregrine shows up: The change image may look like a bird (left image below) and it certainly has curved lines (right). Here are two peregrine tweets.

When I see a tweet that looks like a peregrine I go to the FALCONCAM – CL Snapshots link. The snapshots refresh every 60 seconds. If I’m nimble I can capture the first one.

Good luck!

Twenty Minutes At The Nest

Morela visits the Cathedral of Learning nest, 1 Jan 2020 (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

At mid-morning on New Years Day, the sun came out, the temperature rose above freezing and the winds gusted to 29 mph — perfect weather for Pitt’s peregrine falcons to stretch their wings.

In the early afternoon Morela visited the nest for twenty minutes. At first she bowed as if to her mate, Terzo, but he didn’t appear on camera. She scraped at the gravel, watched and waited, then preened on the front perch. This is Morela’s longest visit to the nest since she arrived at the Cathedral of Learning last September.

Streaming video isn’t available yet but the snapshot camera captures photos every 15 seconds. I’ve put the best ones in the slideshow below.

The best place to see Morela and Terzo this month is in the air above the Cathedral of Learning. Watch for their breath-taking courtship flights as they prepare to nest in March.

p.s. Morela visited the nest for only a minute yesterday, 2 Jan 2020.

Morela bows and calls to Terzo, 2 Jan 2020 (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

(photo from the National Aviary snapshot camera at Univ of Pittsburgh)

Courtship in December

Terzo and Morela court at the Cathedral of Learning, 2 Dec 2019 (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

Though female peregrines don’t lay eggs until March, peregrine couples maintain their pair bond throughout the year. In winter they perch together, fly together, and occasionally meet at the nest for a ritual called the ledge display.

Early Monday morning December 2, Terzo and Morela bowed at the Cathedral of Learning nest for a long time — six minutes. Their photo above is in black-and-white because the falconcam was still in “night” mode. The sky was that overcast!

Streaming video is not available yet but the snapshot camera captured color photos every 15 seconds. I’ve made them into a video below, condensing six minutes into only 37 seconds.

The video shows that Terzo and Morela follow the expected ritual. After the first bow Terzo moves to the back of the box. The couple bows and sways and you can see their beaks open as they say “ee-chup.”  (Halfway through, Terzo moves to the back right corner and is temporarily out of view.) Terzo leaves first, then Morela. The male always leaves the nest first so the female can make herself at home … and lay eggs some day.

Each of them returned later: Morela alone at 10am. Terzo alone at 11:08am to dig the nest scrape at its usual place under the roof.

Terzo digging the nest scrape under the roof, 2 Dec 2019, 11:08 (photo from the National Aviary snapshot cam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

Will Morela choose Terzo’s scrape for her eggs in March? Or will she use the scrape she’s been making at the front of the nestbox?

I suspect she’ll go with Terzo’s suggestion. She’ll appreciate having a roof when it rains.

Additional resources at these links:

(photos from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

Courting Cahows

Pair of Bermuda petrels at Nonsuch Island, Bermuda, 31 Oct 2019 (screenshot from Cornell Labs Bermuda Cahowcam)

November is courtship time for one of the rarest seabirds on earth.

The Bermuda petrel (Pterodroma cahow) or cahow (pronounced ka-HOW) ranges across the Atlantic Ocean, returning to land only once a year to court and breed at Bermuda.

Cahows nest in dark burrows which they access only at night, so secretive that they were presumed extinct until 1951 when the last 17-18 pairs were discovered on an isolated Bermuda island.

Every year the odds are against an egg becoming an adult. However the birds’ long breeding lives, 30-40 years, ensure the species will survive as long as there are safe places to nest — and that’s the rub. Rats were eradicated from their breeding colonies but many of the burrows are on islands threatened by hurricanes and sea level rise.

Since 2001 the Cahow Recovery Program has been setting up safe breeding burrows on Nonsuch Island and translocating a few pre-fledgled birds to the burrows in hopes they will return there to breed when they reach maturity at 3-6 years of age. So far so good. There are now 15 pairs on Nonsuch, two of which use burrows equipped with live streaming Cahow cams under infrared light.

November is the time to watch the cameras at Cornell Lab’s Bermuda Petrel Cams. The pairs return to their burrows, prepare the nest, court and copulate. In the video below a pair touches beaks and preens in the courtship behavior called allopreening.

Watch the Cahow cams this month, especially at night. The birds are most active on the darkest nights of the New Moon.

Cahows leave their burrows in December, then the female returns in January to lay her single egg. If all goes well a chick will fledge in July.

The long process of creating and raising a single cahow chick has just begun.

p.s. Here’s an amazing fact about cahows: Notice that the birds have tube-like noses. These structures take the salt out of saltwater so they can drink it. They sneeze the salt out of their noses. There are more amazing cahow facts here.

(screenshot and video from Cornell Lab’s Bermuda Petrel cams)

Briefly at the Nest

On Friday afternoon, 1 November 2019, Terzo called to his new mate Morela to court with him at the Cathedral of Learning peregrine nest, “Come bow with me!”

Morela arrived immediately and became so wrapped up in courtship that she didn’t realize she was crowding Terzo into the back of the box. When he had no room to bow, Terzo stopped courting and left the nest.

Morela turned and called, “Come back!”

This was a brief courtship display even though it may look as if Terzo was running away. How do we know it wasn’t aggression? Here’s the difference between courtship and a fight.

In courtship you will see two birds, one much larger than the other, bowing and “ee-chupping” in squeaky voices. This is a very ritualized Ledge Display with a pattern of who-does-what: the male arrives and leaves first; they bow and ee-chupp; the female stays after he leaves. The ritual steps of the Ledge Display are described at: Familiarities On The Cliff.

In a fight at the nest, two peregrines of the same sex (equal size) lock talons, scream at the top of their lungs and try to peck, wound and kill each other. The fight does not stop until one of them is dead. There’s more information on this at Fidelity to Their Mates and Fighting. For a slideshow of a famous fight at the Pitt nest see Peregrine Fight at the Nest, 18 March 2007.

Ledge Displays are typically very brief outside the nesting season but Morela wasn’t done. Soon enough she’ll learn how to bow without crowding Terzo.

Don’t worry. They’ll be back.

(video from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

Morela with Terzo at the Nest!

Since early October I’ve watched the new female peregrine, Morela, fly and perch with her mate at the Cathedral of Learning. Her presence is easy to confirm because she’s often on camera. Not so with her mate.

Last week she tried to entice him to the nest but he was reluctant to join her. I wondered if he was new to the Cathedral of Learning. Yesterday, 30 October 2019, he appeared on camera for the first time.

Just before 4pm Morela jumped into the nest and called to another peregrine. The male stayed off-screen for a minute, then jumped down to bow with her.

The male she’s been courting is Terzo!

Terzo has been the resident male peregrine at Pitt since his arrival in March 2016. I recognized him on camera by the unique heart-shaped white patch on the left side of his face and his black/red color band. No, I couldn’t read his band numbers in the video (Terzo is Black/Red N/29) but I believe he’s the only male peregrine in the world with that face pattern + Black/Red bands.

So now we know that the peregrine couple at the Cathedral of Learning is Morela & Terzo. For the first time in years I’m excited about the upcoming nesting season. Courtship will intensify in January. Egg laying is due in mid to late March.

Stay tuned on the National Aviary’s snapshot camera at the University of Pittsburgh. Streaming video from the National Aviary will resume in early 2020.

(video from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

Peregrine Fledging at 62nd Street Bridge

On Wednesday July 3, Joe Stavish of Tree Pittsburgh saw an immature peregrine standing on a rock pile in Tree Pittsburgh‘s parking lot below the 62nd Street Bridge. Joe emailed me:

I found an immature peregrine in the parking lot at Tree Pittsburgh (under 62nd street bridge) on Wednesday, July 3, 2019. We have noticed [peregrine] adults flying around the tree nursery this spring. This one was a bit clumsy moving around the rock pile but ultimately flew off. I could not see any band on the legs. Not sure if it came from the 62nd street bridge but perhaps!

Joe Stavish email, 5 July 2019

Here’s a Google Street View of that end of 62nd Street. Tree Pittsburgh is beyond the chain link fence on the left side of the image, though it didn’t exist when Google took this photo.

At this point (early/mid July) it’s too late to find the peregrines’ nest but keep an eye out for them beginning next January at the 62nd Street Bridge.

NOTE! A nestbox was installed on the bridge in January 2008. If it’s still on the bridge the peregrines might be using it.

In January 2008 a nestbox was installed at the 62nd Street Bridge (photo from PGC). Is the nestbox still there?

Blue Jays Nesting

Blue jay gathering rootlets to line its nest (photo by Andy Reago & Chrissy McClarren on Flickr, Creative Commons license)

This spring a pair of blue jays nested in my backyard and fledged a single youngster before Memorial Day.

The fledgling was short-tailed, perky and adventuresome, often standing wide-eyed in exposed open places. His parents followed him everywhere and seemed to say, “Be careful! Don’t stand out in the open like that!”

But the fledgling was too naive. By the third day he went missing, undoubtedly dead. His parents started to build a new nest.

They scouted together in my backyard, gathering moss and rootlets. According to the nest description in the Petersen Field Guide to Birds’ Nests blue jay nests are …

Bulky, well hidden in crotch or outer branch of coniferous or deciduous tree, 5-50 ft above ground, commonly 10-25 ft. Built by both sexes of thorny twigs, bark, mosses, string, leaves; lined with rootlets.

The second nest is so well hidden that I didn’t find it, but here’s what it would look like (photo by Henry T. McLin).

Blue jay on nest (photo by Henry T. McLin on Flickr, Creative Commons license)

The pair has time to raise a second brood, especially if the female laid eggs in the first week of June. From first egg to fledging takes 38 to 45 days:

  • Blue jay egg laying takes 4-6 days (one egg per day, clutch of 4-6)
  • Incubation lasts 17-18 days
  • Nestlings fledge in 17-21 days.
Blue jay family in the nest (photo by Carol Vinzant on Flickr, Creative Commons license)

I hope to see baby blue jays around July 15. I’m wishing them better luck this time! See more news below(*).

p.s. There’s a story behind the blue jay family in the nest above. Click here to read.

(photo credits, Creative Commons non-commercial licenses on Flickr: Gathering nesting material by Andy Reago & Chrissy McClarren. On nest by Henry T. McLin. Nest with babies by Carol Vinzant)

(*) Unfortunately the second brood failed, too. I saw a nestling on the ground, too young to fly, on July 7. I repeatedly placed it up high in the vicinity of the nest but the nestling kept hopping back down to the ground. Eventually it hid under the lip of our bird bath.

Blue jay baby on ground, 7 July 2019 (photo by Kate St. John)

All Five Have Flown

Dori perched on the shield at 3rd & Wood (photo by Lori Maggio)
Dori perched on the shield at 3rd & Wood (photo by Lori Maggio)

As of 8:25am this morning, 12 June 2019, Lori Maggio reports that the peregrine nest at Third Avenue in Downtown Pittsburgh looks empty. She found 4 of the 5 youngsters and — great news! — the one on the Rescue Porch this morning has a MOTUS nanotag so we’ll know where he goes!

The tagged bird is probably the one rescued from 304 Wood Street on Monday. Because he’s tagged & returned we know he isn’t injured.

Thankfully everyone waited for the Game Warden to arrive & rescue the bird. Thanks to MOTUS we will know where he goes. Click here to read more about the nanotags.

(photo by Lori Maggio)

UPDATE at 11:15a, 12 June 2019 (while I wait in an airport): 4th bird found down in a bus shelter on Boulevard of Allies & taken to Rescue Porch at 11:10am on 12 June 2019.

Fledgling Rescue #4 at the bus stop (photo by Amanda Anderson)

UPDATE at 5:15p, 12 June 2019: 5th downed peregrine found standing on Dollar Back steps on Third Avenue. PGC called to rescue. I’m waiting to hear if this one gets nanotagged.

So as of 13 June 2019 there have been 5 rescues of 5 birds. They could still land on the street so keep an eye out for downed peregrines in Downtown Pittsburgh.